Sunny curls against me, and I’m reminded starkly how he felt in the womb, like a little basketball with kicking legs.
He says, “Mama milk, mama milk,” and latches quickly, deeply.
He begins to suck, and my milk lets down; after six years of nursing babies, my milk still lets down, and he sucks harder in bliss. At 2½, mama milk still puts him to sleep. Mama milk can still fix any boo-boo. Mama milk can soothe a savage tantrum, or ease waking up in the morning. Mama milk does so much.
And soon we will be done.
I nursed my older children to 3 years and 4 years, respectively. They nursed while they needed it and quit when they didn’t. My middle son August, in particular, is sensitive and needy; he had a baby brother the week he turned two years old. He needed to nurse until just after he turned 4. And then, suddenly, he didn’t. He asked a few times, but I said no, and we were finished. His baby brother was just barely 2. I had so much time. Then I didn’t.
I remember the day my milk came in. I had just received the news that I was dangerously close to gestational diabetes, and I was terrified I wouldn’t be able to birth with a midwife. I came home from that appointment and brushed against my nipple; a thick gold substance beaded up on it. I was making colostrom. And I forgot the gestational diabetes, forgot the midwife worries, and called to my husband, “I’m making milk!” I was so proud. My body was getting ready to feed my baby.
Now I’m staring down the end of my breastfeeding journey. For various medical reasons, there will be no more biological babies. I get too sick when I’m pregnant: diabetes, hyperemesis, iron so low I need infusions. And I take too many medications incompatible with pregnancy; to go off them could be disastrous. A pregnancy would put me in bed for months; we’d need a nanny, and the kids could no longer homeschool. So we made the hard decision to stop having biological babies. My womb is closed for business. I will never feel another child move inside me; I will never offer another baby my breast.
I didn’t realize how much nursing meant to me until now, when it’s almost gone. I could always feed my babies on the go. I never worried about the number of feedings they needed; they always got enough because I nursed them on demand. I could soothe them when they cried. I could nurse them so they slept. When they got sick, breastmilk always stayed down. Nursing is easy for me. And nursing has made parenting easier. I wouldn’t know what to do without it.
And soon, I won’t have it anymore. I won’t have the tool to soothe the tantrum, to fix the boo-boo, to put Sunny to sleep. We’ll hold him while he rages instead, then talk about his anger. Bandaids will take the place of breastmilk. Sunny will go to sleep in my husband’s arms, not at my breast. All small things, in the grand scheme of parenting. Annoying, of course, but doable.
I find these things aren’t what I will miss. I’ll miss, instead, giving Sunny something no one else can. I’ll miss this intimate bond of milk, of mother and baby, of nourishment and comfort. There is a deep biological link, somehow, to nursing. I will give that up when he weans; I’ll never have that link again. The intimacy of nursing will forever leave me. This is what I will miss.
And I’ll miss not only the intimacy of milk, but the sheer intimacy of the act: I will miss the snuggles. I’ll miss the way Sunny lies down next to me and curls up, the way he puts his still-starfish hands on either side of his mouth. I’ll miss the small body against mine. I can feel his breath, his suck. I hold him in my arms. This is what I will lose. This is what I will never have again.
Babies grow up, and I don’t grudge him that. I know his baby lisp will turn to clear syllables; his toddler run will become a little boy sprint. I’ve watched it happen twice already, and I will watch it happen again. I will see Sunny finish nursing. But not today, dear Lord. Not yet.More On